Werewolf by Night Review: Marvel's Most Magnificent Idea

Marvel Studios spent a decade ascending to the top of Hollywood, molding itself as the production house behind the largest film franchise the world has ever seen. With a changing landscape, the Kevin Feige-led outfit pivoted slightly, finally dipping its toes into the world of television, thanks to the advancement of streaming technology. Come Friday, the studio will again make another slight pivot as it releases its first-ever "Special Presentation" in Werewolf by Night, a contained story with a run time somewhere between an episode of television and a feature-length film.

In the span of 50 minutes, give or take a few for credits, the ensemble of the special find themselves at Bloodstone Temple, hunting a monster in hopes of winning one of the most precious MacGuffins in this corner of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. The end result is a super-refined product that's as quality as it is unique.

While the format is an entirely new concept to the outfit, Werewolf by Night happens to be one of the Marvel Machine's most well-oiled items yet. There's something to be said about how that machine was able to be formed—giving filmmakers just enough freedom to tell the vast majority of the story they want to tell while making sure they keep things within the blueprint that made Marvel Studios the hottest ticket in town.

Except here, where the special breaks the Marvel mold. Werewolf by Night tears off its restraints as Michael Giacchino runs wild with his storytelling. The composer-turned-director's Marvel debut simultaneously shrugs off most Marvel trademarks while retaining a few of the quirks to satisfy franchise fans.

The overwhelming majority of the special is shot in black and white as an homage to the Universal Monsters and Hammer Horror movies, arguably the boldest choice the production house has ever made—a choice that pays off in dividends. The desaturated look allows Giacchino to craft the franchise's most adult outing with enough blood and dismemberments to raise the question as to how the special got the green light from a family-oriented streaming service in the first place.

Without color or having to worry about a ratings bureau, Marvel is able to add more blood to its sword strikes, throat cuts, and decapitations as the traditionally scarlet fluid flings aplenty. More blood is shed in a sequence riffing on Daredevil's hallway fights than in the franchise's other outings combined, and that's only the beginning the tip of the blood-filled iceberg.

This special is a delectable monster mash, featuring the likes of Jack Russell (Gael Garcia Bernal), Elsa Bloodstone (Laura Donnelly), and the macabre Man-Thing, with each one sure to become favorites of the franchise. Despite a featherweight run time, the refined plot from Peter Cameron and Heather Quinn allows for a script that hyper-focuses on character work. With the entire special taking place at one location, things get incredibly intimate faster than any of Marvel's other Disney+ outings. In fact, one could argue the story and character work of one special rivals that of Marvel's six-episode shows on the same platform.

Both Bernal and Donnelly excel any time they're on screen and, given they're the two leads, that much is constant. You have Bernal's eponymous lycanthrope who embraces the monster within with a sense of charm and acceptance, then there's Donnelly's monster-hunting Bloodstone, a no-nonsense interpretation of the character that will leave viewers second-guessing whether they've accidentally started an episode of Jessica Jones. Then there's Man-Thing, a spookier version of Groot that's sure to become an instant favorite amongst both fans and Disney's consumer products department alike.

Scaling down the story does wonders for Werewolf by Night, one of the strongest MCU outings in recent memory. It's a quick watch that's packed to the brim with action and character beats. Giacchino's ability to take this on a passion project is apparent from the leap with excitement oozing from the screen the second the Marvel fanfare begins to run. It's something that would be a great watch any time of the year but the fact it releases right as we're getting into the thick of spooky seasons makes it an exceptionally exciting project.

Rating: 5 out of 5

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Werewolf by Night premieres on Disney+ on October 7th.